Know the signs of denial


Know the signs of denial

Denial is a commonly used defense mechanism for abuse victims. Because they want to believe that things will go back to normal, victims often feel trapped into just allowing the situation to play out. Fear of change can be overwhelming, especially if the victim has been manipulated by his or her abuser. Victims may also struggle with accepting what’s happening because they know their abuser closely, as a family member or friend. It’s important to recognize the signs of denial and how to break through those barriers that can keep a victim from true healing.  The VIRTUS® article “The Many Faces of Denial" can be found below:


The Many Faces of Denial
By Paul Ashton, Psy.D., D.Min.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am!
Isaiah 58:8-9

When bad things happen we often close our eyes and pray that it is all a bad dream; we try with all our might to wish it away. If only we could go back in time and change things. We play the scenes over and over again in our mind; we try to bargain it all away. We respond by staying in control and operating in normal mode, yet the reality still exists. When this is how we cope, we find ourselves in denial.
Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that individuals and groups use to cope with a difficult reality or set of circumstances and to maintain a particular image. This is generally done when faced with a trauma or event that is overwhelmingly difficult to bear.
There are several forms of psychological defense mechanisms, for example:

  • dissociation
  •  intellectualization
  •  repression
  • reaction formation
  • displacement
  • sublimation
  • altruism
  • suppression
  • humor

Throughout a person's life they might use any number of these defenses to confront and cope with the challenges, disappointments, and traumas of life. The appropriate use of defense mechanisms is healthy. However, a defense mechanism becomes pathological when it is used persistently and leads to irregular behavior that can eventually threaten the physical and/or mental health of the individual.


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Catholic), all rights reserved, and is reprinted here with National Catholic's permission. It originally appeared on the VIRTUS Online™ risk management website at www.virtus.org.

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We hear a lot about "healthy denial," which involves self-deception in the face of accurate perception. Individuals who engage in this mainly pre-conscious process basically understand the threat to their life situation. Persons are able to see and register the reality of their situation, but to balance and accept the full impact of the emotional strain placed upon them, they simultaneously seek to dissociate from its personal impact. This is done by positively reconstructing its personal meaning or significance. They then turn despair into hope.
With that brief introduction to denial as a defense mechanism, we will now look at why victims of sexual abuse often deny their experiences. If you have worked with a person who has been victimized at all, you will sometimes see that they will seek the feedback of many other people to check whether what has happened to them can be really classified as abuse.
A.J. Mahari, herself a sexual abuse survivor, has written much about the reasons why some victims deny their sexual abuse and has identified five primary reasons. In the next installment of this topic we will examine these reasons.


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